The beginning of the Parsha gives what seems like a detailed description of where the Jewish people were at the time. Rashi, however, points out that they were not at the places that were mentioned, or that some of the locations didn’t even exist. So why were those places mentioned? The answer is that they were hinting to places that K’lal Yisroel sinned, and the Torah did not want to talk disparagingly about the Jewish nation. This seems strange: We are all taught that each place mentioned alludes to another sin, so why not just say it? This answer is the same that we mentioned a few weeks ago regarding Bilam. Why didn’t Hashem let Bilam curse the Jewish people and just not allow the curses to be fulfilled? Because He didn’t want Bilam to say something negative about the people. As we enter into Tisha B’Av, we should remember that just speaking negatively about another Jew regardless of who is listening or who is not listening is wrong!
Parshas Matos Massai
The Sfas Emes points out that when Moshe berated the tribe of Reuven for wanting to settle on the East side of the Jordan river and not in Eretz Yisroel proper, the people kept quiet throughout his entire speech. He told them they are making the same mistake as the spies did 40 years earlier and are going to demoralize the nation again from crossing over into the Jordan River. They did not answer that they had every intention of crossing over and helping to conquer the land until Moshe was done berating them. The Gerrer Rebbe explains that it is a privilege to hear the rebuke of a great man even if they did not deserve it. In order to learn this lesson, a person needs to control their ego. It is our ego which stops us from learning from others and growing closer to Hashem.
The Midrash tells us that the angel that Hashem sent to Bilam was an Angel of Rachamim, mercy. This angel had a sword drawn and told Bilam that had his donkey not stopped, he would have killed him. That doesn’t sound like mercy, but the Malach was trying to stop him from trying to curse the Jewish people, thereby, destroying himself. Rav Avraham Pam, OB”M, says this happens in our lives all the time. We don’t realize when things look harsh, it’s actually Hashem’s mercy leading us to take a whole different path in life. He tells a story about when Rav Eli Meir Bloch was in America fundraising for Telshe Yeshiva and he couldn’t get back to Lithuania because of the war. Instead of letting this destroy him, he took it as a sign to build Torah in America. Telshe was destroyed but because Rav Eli Meir Bloch was not able to go back, he survived and replanted Telshe Yeshiva in America.
One of the main themes of last week's Parsha proved that Moshe did nothing on his own; everything he said or did was directly from Hashem's instructions. Therefore, there was never a reason to direct complaints against Moshe since he was only the messenger. Why then in this week's Parsha as the people get tired of the journey and the Mann do they complain about Moshe again? The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh answers that their complaint was quite different this time. They had learned their lesson. The Torah says, "Va'Yidaber Ha'am B'Elokim Ub'Moshe - The people spoke out about Hashem and Moshe." They realized that everything is from Hashem, but they were upset with Moshe for not Davening to take them on a less circuitous route. Their mistake was not realizing, "Kol Maa Da'avid Rachmana Letav Avid - Everything G-D does is for the best."
In some ways, this is the saddest Parsha in the Torah. It is in this Parsha, that the spies come back with a false and negative report about Eretz Yisroel. The people cry they don’t want to go in, and Hashem decrees the 40 years of wandering in the desert. He also decrees that this day, the 9th of Av, will be a national day of mourning, and all Jewish tragedies have roots on this day. The Midrash tells us, however, that despite all the sadness, Hashem reemphasizes again and again the guarantee that Eretz Yisroel is promised to our forefathers. Even though this generation wouldn’t be allowed to enter the land and inhabit it as their own, it will go to their descendants. Part of our Emunah in Hashem is that He is immortal. If you believe that Hashem is immortal, it is a given that His promise is immortal. Generations come and go, but Hashem’s promise that Eretz Yisroel will unequivocally belong to the Jewish people will remain forever.
In this week's Parsha, Aharon is commanded to light the Menorah in the Mishkan and later his descendants were given the same privilege in the Bais Hamikdash. The Midrash asks: Why does G-D, who is the master and keeper of all light, need us to light candles for Him? The Midrash answers with a parable. A man who could see was helping a blind man walk home. When they got to the dark house, the man who could see asked the blind man to go in and light the candles for him. The blind man asked, “Why, if you can help me all the way home, do you need me to light up the house for you?” The man answered that I didn't want you to feel that I did you a favor for nothing. The Midrash continues and says: We are the blind man groping in the dark and Hashem is the one who can see. He gives us the Mitzvah of Menorah and all the Mitzvos so we can feel we are earning the tremendous care He gives us all the time in this world and the next.
The birth order of the sons of Levy were Gershon, Kehas, and Merari. Why is Kehas mentioned first in last week's Parsha and Gershon isn’t mentioned until this week's Parsha? The Midrash Rabba answers Kehas is given the job of carrying the The Aron Hakodesh which holds the Torah so he is mentioned first. This shows that Torah is more precious than birth rank. The Kli Yakar however asks why then wasn't the Aron given to Gershon, the older brother, to carry? He answers that it was purposely not given to the oldest to show that Torah is not reserved for people with rank or stature only, everyone can have the Torah if they put their mind to it.
Parshas Behar- Bechukosi
אַל־תּוֹנ֖וּ אִ֥ישׁ אֶת־אָחִֽיו A man shall not oppress his friend. The Midrash learns this Passuk to mean verbal abuse. A person needs to be very careful not to hurt another person’s feelings through words. Although the secular world is fond of saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”, the Torah teaches us the opposite, "HaChaim Vehamoves Byad Haloshon - life and death are in the hands of the tongue!” The Shem M’Shmuel explains that the power of speech is a spiritual power and is, therefore, more powerful than any other power we possess. We need to use this power responsibly.
Rashi asks, “Why is Shabbos listed as the first of the Moados (the holidays) when it’s not a Moed? He answers that one who violates the holidays it is as if he is violating the Shabbos. Rav Shimshon Pincus explains this Rashi to mean that the Holiness that is part of the holiday comes from the Holiness of Shabbos. The source of any Holiness in reference to ‘time’ comes from Shabbos. Pesach and Sukkos always have at least one Shabbos within their days. Rosh Hashana marks the day that Adam Harishon was created, which was Erev Shabbos. Yom Kippur is called Shabbos Shabboson, and Shavuos is after seven complete weeks - Sheva Shabbosos Temimos. All our times of Holiness revolve around Shabbos.
Parshas Achaarie Mot- Kedoshim
The Torah tells us that the Kohen Gadol cannot go into the Kodesh Hakoshim whenever he wants. We are then told he can only go in "Bezos -with this”. After hearing that, Kayin did Teshuva for killing his brother and was forgiven. Adam Harishon wrote “Mizmor Shir L’yom HaShabbos” as an ode to the power of Teshuva. There is, however, no mention of Teshuva - only praises to G-d. Nonetheless, there is one peculiar verse “Ukesial Lo Yavin es Zos - the fool does not understand ‘Zos’ this. And finally, in the Tehillim of “L’David Hashem Ori” which is recited between the beginning of the month of Elul until the end of the holiday of Sukkos it say"BeZos Ani Boteach" In "Zos" I put my trust. What is this word "Zos " all about? The Gematria, or numeric value, of "Zos" is 408. On Rosh Hashana we say there are three things that can nullify a bad decree: Fasting which is called "Tzom", using our voice, which is known as "Kol" to call out in prayer, and giving "Mamon" or money to charity. The numerical value of "Kol" "Mamon " and "Tzom" is 408. The Kohen Gadol goes into the Kodesesh Hakadoshim with a combination of prayer, fasting and charity. We say during the High Holiday season: “It is in my prayers fasting and charity that I put my trust”. Adam Harishon said only a fool does not understand the power of prayer, fasting, and charity.
Parshas Tazria Metzorah
There is a fascinating Gemara in Eiruchin 15b, that explains the passuk from this week’s Parsha, “Zot Tehiyeh Torat Hametzora” is illuding to “Zot Tehiyeh Torat Motzei Shem Ra”. The Gemara says that anyone who speaks Loshen Horah (gossip which is true) or worse, Motzei Shem Ra (false rumors and exaggerations), it is as if he denies the entire Torah. This is one of the seven sins for which a person receives the punishment of Tzara’at. Nowadays, people do not see Tzara’at, but is still affects the Neshama of a person. We are told that when a person goes to sleep at night, 1/60th of his Neshama goes up to Shamayim. If he speaks Loshon Horah, his Tzara’at, becomes prevalent on his Neshama, and no one in Shamayim will go near him, including Hashem’s Shecinah (the Divine presence of G-D) or the Malachim. In the times when Tzara’at was noticeable, the person who was afflicted with Tzara’at had to separate from the entire community and warn others not to go near him. This was Middah K’neged Middah (measure for measure). The one who spoke Lashon Horah separated his victim from the rest of the community and has made him feel isolated, so now he is separated from others and he feels isolated. There are countless stories of people whose lives have literally been destroyed by Motzei Shem Ra, people spreading rumors about them that are simply not true. One of the reasons we must be so careful about our speech is the difficulty and near impossibility of retracting what is said. It is like tearing open a feather pillow in the middle of the town square -- and then trying to gather up all the feathers and put them back in the case.